Friday, July 08, 2016

Indiscriminate Poison

Bigotry is part of human nature. To suggest that someone is incapable of bigotry is to deny their humanity. Micah Johnson ruined his life yesterday and ended others because he wanted to kill white people in retaliation for the unjustified violence and killing perpetrated by white police. I've been hearing and reading people assert over the past few years that black people are incapable of being racist against white people, that any member of an oppressed group cannot be bigoted against the oppressor group. The definition for racism at Merriam-Webster is "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race." This is also how the term is generally understood yet there are many who would load an extra value judgement to the word that makes oppressed groups exempt. When you do this, you're telling people that there's something fundamentally different about their minds than the minds of others, it's a philosophy that divides and makes it easier for one side to see the other as another species.

I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon again for the first time in quite a few years last night. I saw it nine times when it was in theatres sixteen years ago, watching it again felt really good. Like all of Ang Lee's movies, the main attraction is his ability to direct faces, to tell so much of the story through the subtlest shifts in facial expression.

It's a story of women dealing with traditional patriarchy. Jade Fox (Cheng Pei-pei) murders Mu Bai's (Chow Yun-fat) master because he refuses to train a woman and now Fox is the mentor to Jen (Zhang Ziyi). The movie is a wonderfully effective portrait of the differences between generations in many ways but with the central complicating factor of genuinely bad things about the system in which the older generation operates. Mu Bai is forced to acknowledge he must train Jen, despite tradition, because otherwise, he observes, she may become a "poisoned dragon".

The general idea of the movie is being open to the humanity of others regardless of whether their part of the oppressor group or not. Most of the conflict in the film comes from Jen's persistent inability to trust other people. She can't even rationalise to herself why she does half of what she does--her fear drives her to violent contrariness. First she pursues and attacks Lo (Chang Chen), the thief who stole her comb, beyond all reason--then she wants to rebel against her family to stay with Lo, then she rejects Lo, Jade Fox, and Mu Bai, holding obstinately to things she said and things other people said to her in heated moments.

Mu Bai seems to be the antidote, being a supernaturally gifted fighter whose skills seem less about attack than about finding a perfect harmony with nature--most of his action scenes are him calmly defending himself against attack with no thought of killing. Yet even he is vulnerable to the same poison and must pursue his revenge against Jade Fox.

When a white cop shoots an innocent black man, part of the dialogue that should come in the wake of the incident is how a system might exacerbate irrational patterns the human mind is vulnerable to. The human mind, not the white mind. Hearing recently lectures about how oppressed groups were incapable of bigotry, I couldn't help thinking of a book I've been reading lately on 17th century Ireland. What a complex history of overlapping groups with passionate, ancient grievances and commitments. Which group is the one exempt? The Old English Catholics, the old natives of Ulster, the Protestants, the members of the Confederacy--and which of the groups that splintered in the Confederacy? One of the benefits of studying history is seeing that all humans are susceptible to being human.

Twitter Sonnet #889

A waiting egg defaced its call with Hell.
Incarceration stakes a vintage bolt.
Decreasing circles claim a canvas bell.
The soundless linen cools the skinny colt.
A tumbling monkey graced a plastic mould
Implored to bend a knee on ev'ry stair.
A curving lid was striped in shade to hold.
The steel reflected kitchen beams to spare.
Two marriages offered to stop a war.
A door to stone passages checked a friend.
As dreams the flowers lived centuries more.
A space reminds the ship it's not the end.
Metallic poison turns from jade to green.
The ghosts of pins progress on backs unseen.

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